Monday, November 22, 2010

My Problem with Thanksgiving

I love pie. I love family dinners that are so big your mom needs you to sit at the Ping-Pong table. I love stuffing and cranberries and sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.

And, I'm thankful. For a zillion things, not the least of which are my family, friends, church, workplace, growth group, Target, and the experience of living and traveling overseas. Maybe next week I'll feel extra festive and make you a list.

But, I have a problem. If you read this last year, you got a hint of it, but seriously, people - can we talk about this?

Simon came home from school with a paper headdress. And I just don't get it. How that's okay. How we can celebrate a holiday by having our children dress up as a people group that were victims of having their land stolen, and eventual genocide?

The roots of this country are rife with injustice, and it gets increasingly difficult for me to gloss over holidays that don't take time to acknowledge that. I hate how angry this is sounding. I want it to sound light and be a little thought-provoking, but my true feelings keep leaking in to my words.

This summer, I read The Mayflower, and it kind of ruined the fourth of July for me. In a good way, I guess - an important way, if not a fun way. This year I was determined to not let Thanksgiving pass by without learning more about the beginnings of our country, especially around the first Thanksgiving. I forced Ben to watch this with me, and I'm sad.

I think I'm mostly sad we can celebrate without mourning. Thankfulness is good, but how can we be truly thankful for things which we are not willing to acknowledge the cost? The cost was not only in Pilgrim lives lost to hunger and the sea. The cost was that we built our country on a superiority complex, and that that would stick with us for generations, tainting relationships of all kinds.

The cost was that our most treasured values - freedom, liberty and justice for all - was founded on Freedom for Me, Liberty for Those Who Don't Threaten Me, and Justice for Some. The cost was that we fight for things that we feel like we earned, but that we didn't earn without guilt.

I am thankful, but I'm also sad. This week will be busy - full of travels and packing and really festive meals together with people I love the most. We will celebrate and we will enjoy the little things. But, my hope is that I'll take the time to keep learning about Native American history and the Trail of Tears. I hope that I'll let myself feel sad at what went wrong.

I'm not suggesting that a moment of silence before eating turkey is the answer or that it would fix anything. What bothers me is not that we celebrate thankfulness or that we're happy about our blessings, but how our cultural folklore has erased the things that taint our history. My fear is that as we glorify such folklore we subliminally teach our kids and assure ourselves that the noble beginnings (people fleeing religions persecution) or the happy ends (a free society) justify the means.

Ok, I'll stop. I'm sorry for being a downer. The Indian headdress made out of xerox paper pushed me over the edge.

Comments are open, so go ahead and tell me what you're thinking!


Dad said...

I think breaking your concerns down into the very specific effects and consequences of settling a new land (even though it "belonged" to someone else), or fighting for freedom (whether it be for me or another), or even the awareness of a superiority complex (whether perceived or real) helps us to talk about and consider the interconnectedness of it all. However, I think what you describe is really part of the larger, more encompassing issue that men (mankind) are sinners. We are sinners throughout our very nature and not merely our behaviors. Thus all we do, whether for good reasons or poor; for serving of others or serving of self; even the most altruisitic of endeavors may still in some way be satisfying a personal goal or longing; is rife with sin. Sin is ugly and therefore we tend to focus on the more pretty side (if there is one.) I just want to say that I too am thankful for "things" I enjoy. I am thankful for family and I am thankful for my work and my lifestyle and freedom to choose, etc. At Thanksgiving, however, what I want to be most thankful for is the fact that the grace of God (which includes good gifts) was visited upon me in a saving way for eternity. I hope and pray that even if my things were to be taken away, my family were to fall apart from me, my lifestyle becomes one of destitution rather than prosperity, or that the freedoms that I currently enjoy should ever be tajken away, that I would be as thankful at those Thanksgivings as I am today. When I consider the cost of my homeland, my freedom, my prosperity and nice things, I am aware that those enjoyments have no doubt come to me at someone else's pain, discomfort, cost, or loss. Yet, to me, none of that loss compares to the the pain and loss of the Jesus that died for me. I don't want anyone to ever think that my celebration of Thanksgiving is simply to dull me to the costs incurred for me to be thankful. I am thankful because I don't deserve the crumbs from our table as we will gather this week, but God through His marvelous mysterious grace, still spreads before me a banquet fit for kings. I know when I take my portion of delicious pie that there are many others who have none. I will enjoy the taste of the pie but I will be reminded that I don't deserve to have it over anyone else, and that tomorrow I may actually not have it while someone else does. It keeps pushing me back to Jesus where I ask Him the same question I have asked him for 40 years: Why me, Jesus? Why do you love ME so?
I have rambled much, been interrupted by teachers and alumni several times (yes I am writing this at work!) and therefore am not even sure anymore what I said or what I wanted to say, but if nothing else is clear, may I at least say this: Jesus, I thank you. Jesus I thank you. Jesus I thank you for you being you and being a blessing of grace in my life.

Susie said...

Thanks for the thoughts dad. When are you going to start a blog?

ndagukunda said...

Wow! Very thought-provoking, indeed! I'm passing this on. Thanks for the great read!

Jeedoo said...

Keep challenging us, Stephanie. Really helpful comments.

Lindsay said...

im seconding susies comment, 'Dad' when are you starting a blog? and where can i subscribe... love you susie and family! so thankful for you

Caren said...

You said what I was too tired to try to articulate! I too feel this underlying sadness around Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. I wish we lived in a country that could make room in our cultural landscape for grief as well as pride. Unfortunately, we would rather equate patriotism with a feeling of superiority, rather than a desire to make our country better. Thanks for making me think, and know that you're not the only one cringing with your kid comes home in a headdress!